The Man with the Green Eye
Jon Jenkins was in what he called his home gym at the back of the house, listening to the sounds of spring trickle in through the open window that faced his small backyard, when a knock came at his front door. He almost didn't hear it over the sound of the treadmill and his own labored panting, but when it came a second time, he stopped running and listened. He flipped the power button on the treadmill, and as it wound to a stop, he heard it again; three sharp knocks coming from across the house, rattling the chain lock on the door.
Grabbing the towel from where it hung across the treadmill's handle, he stepped off and headed toward the front of the house. He wasn’t expecting anyone today. To be fair, he was never expecting anyone. He wasn’t the type to have house guests. As he passed his studio — a small room with a few chairs, an easel in the center sitting atop a painter’s mat, and numerous blank canvases leaned against the walls — he ran the towel across his face and through his hair, draping it around the back of his neck. The easel was currently displaying a large blank canvas, which Jon had not yet decided on the subject for. His plan, before being interrupted, was to finish his afternoon jog and then get down to the dirty work of trying to create something of beauty. Ideas had been few and far between recently, and although his last few paintings had received a fair amount of attention — and sold for a hefty price — his motivation had been severely lacking as of late. Even though he was comfortable right now, he’d been eating ramen for every meal just two months before, so he knew that nothing was ever guaranteed, except that without ideas he would be back to ramen sooner rather than later. As his thoughts turned to doubts about the future, three more knocks came from the front door, hard and solid, like hammer strikes. He padded his way down the hallway, dropping the now damp towel on one of the kitchen chairs as he passed. When he finally reached the front door, he unlatched the chain from its holder, twisted the knob, and swung the door open.
On his front porch was a sight that he was unsure of how to process. In the middle of his porch was a man, tall and slender. He was dressed in what Jon could only describe as a Victorian suit. Grey slacks, a dark patterned maroon vest covering a white undershirt and large black and white striped tie. His coat was long, draping down to the back of his knees, the same gray as his pants. On his feet he wore black and white wingtip shoes, and he was holding a cane midway down the shaft in his right hand. Beyond the shock of the outfit in general, the small details were really what caused Jon to pause. The handle of the cane, which he assumed was what had been used to knock on the door, was polished silver shaped into a skull with large spiral horns that wrapped around the sides of the head. The man’s face was chiseled but gaunt, with long gray hair draping down over his shoulders. He was clean shaven, with the look of a man in his mid-thirties. The defining feature of his face, however, were his eyes. One was dark blue, expressive, with the depth of a man who had seen a lot over his lifetime. The other was green, bright and glimmering, but lacked the soulful expression. Jon felt himself staring into the green eye, drawn in by its shimmer. It wasn’t until the man spoke, with a voice that was raspy yet melodic, that Jon was able to bring himself back to the present.
As he stared at the man, that green eye drawing him still, he recognized a change on the man's face. In his peripheral vision, he noticed him loosen his grip on the cane until it slid down into his hand, propping himself up with it. Jon blinked, trying to pull himself away from the man’s eye.
“Mr. Jenkins?” The man asked again, chuckling lightly under his breath, “I’m sorry I’ve come unannounced.”
Jon finally shook his head, and his vision seemed to pull back into his body. He could see the man on his porch, the street behind him, the child riding his bike down the sidewalk in front of his neighbor’s house. “Hi, sorry, I was in the middle of a run, must have still been catching my breath. I’m Jon Jenkins, yeah.”
The man’s smile widened; his teeth were yellowed from what seemed to be years of smoking. He leaned forward, extending his free hand toward him, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, I’ve seen your work at the Gallery Exodus and the Laramie Expo, and I have to say, I’m enthralled by it.”
Without thinking, Jon reached out and grasped the man’s hand in greeting. It was rough, calloused, a working man’s hand. His nails needed a trim, tracing light scratches across Jon’s skin as they both withdrew the handshake. In the art business, he often had to greet fans, and they came in all shapes and sizes, but none that he could remember had ever had such a distinct aura about them. He blinked again, still trying to clear the image of the man’s green eye from his brain and smiled.
“Oh, well thanks. It’s always nice to know that someone likes the things that I make. I don’t think I’ve ever had someone show up at my house to tell me, though. What brings you here, Mr.…?”
“Malum,” the man finished, “Terrance Malum. Again, I’m sorry to intrude and I’m aware that you don’t normally see fans at your home, but I have a commission for you.” He took a step forward, his cane making a dull thump against the porch, “You see, I’m an art enthusiast, a collector. I’ve been collecting for years, finding the most impressive artists I can and commissioning paintings from them. Portraits, to be exact. I have a large collection. Some people might say it’s narcissistic, having an entire gallery of myself hanging in my house, but it’s more about the artists, to me at least. Each one adds his or her unique energy to the painting, and it’s the difference between those that really make them stand out. I’m sure you’d agree.”
While he spoke, Jon found himself drawn back to the man’s eye. He’d heard “commission” and “collector”, but between the melodic voice he spoke with, and the swirling sparkles hidden in that green eye, he’d missed much of what he’d said. When he’d stopped talking, Jon came back once again, giving the man a smile and a nod.
“I, uh, definitely do. A painter always leaves a part of himself on the canvas,” he said, without realizing that he’d actually been listening. Maybe his blood sugar was low, he needed to grab a snack, “So, you’re saying that you’d like me to do a portrait for you?”
“Exactly that, if you wouldn’t mind.”
Jon smiled. At least it was a paying job, that was the important part. Although it wasn’t something he normally did, he was confident in his ability to do a portrait, especially if he was getting lost in this man’s face. He was sure he could translate that to a canvas.
“That’s not a problem at all, I can definitely do that for you. Do you have a picture you’d want me to use? If you leave it, and maybe your number, I can let you know when it’s ready for delivery. Probably in a few days.”
“Actually,” the man said, taking another step forward, another thud of the cane against the wooden boards. He was now at the threshold of the door, “I’d like to sit for it, if that’s not too much trouble. And I’d like to do it now.”
The melody of the man's voice had all but disappeared as he spoke the last sentence. His tone had turned severe, matter of fact. Jon stared at the man, just a few feet away from his face, attempting to gauge his next move. After considering his options for reply, the one he settled on was, “Like, right now?”
“Indeed, if it’s not too much trouble, of course,” the man said. The melody had returned, and the corner of his mouth curled in a grin.
Before he could process his actions, Jon replied, “Of course, no trouble at all, come in, please,” and moved to the side of the open door, leaving room for the man to step through, which he did. As Jon was closing the front door behind him, Terrance was already making his way down the hall toward the studio, as if he’d known where it was all along. The sound of his cane seemed to punctuate every sentence he spoke as he headed down the hallway.
“It’s this way, correct?” thump “You do have an awfully lovely little house. Do you live here alone?” thump “Of course you do, struggling artists always choose passion over relationships.” thump thump “I really appreciate you taking the time for this, I just know that you’ll capture the moment splendidly.” thump “Ah, this seems to be the studio, it’s full of creative energy. I’ll find a seat.”
As Jon followed him down the hallway, listening to the man’s stream of consciousness, his brain was twisted in knots. Not fifteen minutes ago, he was enjoying a springtime jog and worrying about the upcoming bills, stressed by his lack of imagination recently, and desperately trying to stay positive for the future. All that had melted away now, like the last snow at the beginning of spring, and had been replaced by a strange calmness. He tried to think of something, anything, other than the man’s face, his raspy, sing-song voice, and that green, swirling sapphire eye. Before he knew it, he was standing in the studio, behind the canvas.
The man sat across from him, a little to the left of the canvas, giving him the perfect angle for Jon to capture his likeness. The sun streaming in through the small window bathed him in an aura of golden light, catching on the silver head of the cane and reflecting odd patterns along the walls. As Jon took a seat and readied his paints, he was astounded by how gorgeous the man looked.
“I hope this is a good position? I think the light here does me a fair amount of justice, but then again, I’m only the subject. You’re the artist.”
“It’s perfect,” Jon said, picking up the pallet and getting to work.
The actual process of painting went in a blur. Jon hadn’t worked on a portrait in quite a while, although he’d always been praised for them in art school. Nowadays, he focused on landscapes, capturing the beauty of an almost unimportant scene. His recent paintings had been of a subway stop and a strip mall parking lot — uninspired locations, to say the least — of which he’d managed to slip a few small details. The subway station was full of grays and dark blues, but featured a woman in an orange, flowing dress ascending the stairs near the back. The strip mall, run down and muted, had shown a couple embracing toward one side, as if they’d been apart for a long time and had finally had a chance to meet again. He appreciated the simplicity of the human element bringing out the life of a painting. With this portrait however, the details seemed to flow directly from his brain to the canvas. The shade of gray for his suit, the white, smooth lines of his hair, the contour of the silver skull’s horns as they spiraled back and around, the shine of that green eye capturing the sunlight in just the right way to give it the depth of a universe. The brush strokes vanished into the canvas as the portrait emerged, and when the shadow of the man sitting across from him had risen halfway up the far wall, the deed was done.
Jon took a deep breath, letting it out in a long sigh as he leaned back from the canvas. For the first time, he saw the image as a whole, and it was magnificent. He had a flash of art school, everyone praising his use of color and shading as they stood around marveling at his work, and he felt the same now even with no one around. The man sitting behind the canvas turned and met Jon’s eyes.
“It’s finished,” Jon said with a smile.
Both men stood from their chairs, Jon taking a step back from the painting and Terrance making his way around it, the cane tapping rhythmically as he did. He took up a position behind Jon, a smile crossing his lips as he looked over the painting.
“Magnificent,” he said, low and melodic, “truly fantastic. The amount of life you’ve captured in this, the emotion. I can feel this painting, the aura of the room, the warmth of the sunlight. Magnificent.”
The last word trailed off, bouncing around the room, and he set his hand on Jon’s shoulder. Jon attempted to turn his head to reply, but his neck didn’t respond. When it didn’t, he tried to furrow his brow, but that didn’t respond either. He tried to open his mouth to ask what was happening, but he found it locked in place as well. His heart started to race. What’s happening? All his muscles were tight, constricted, even his chest was locked in place, although he was still breathing, somehow. His eyes could move, only slightly, and he wasn’t able to see the man until he walked around his side, moving toward the painting.
“Mr. Jenkins, I really must say I think you’ve outdone yourself with this, honestly, I have the perfect spot to display this.”
Help! Jon thought, trying to move anything, Can’t you see something’s wrong? Internally, he struggled against whatever was holding him in place, straining every muscle in his body, but nothing would give. Cold crept over his skin, a feeling he could only equate to a smooth stone wall inside a cave. What the hell is happening to me?
The setting sun flooded the gallery, its hardwood walls and marble floor glowing in the late afternoon light. On the wall numerous paintings hung, each showing the same figure from a different perspective, each painted in a slightly different style. Some were realistic, a few were impressionistic, and two depicted the figure in action, transported into a cityscape. Across from each painting, creating a small walkway between them, stood a statue. Each figure was different, unique, but all were made from a dark gray stone, reminiscent of cave stone. If you looked at them closely, you would notice the eyes were very well done, so expressive that you’d almost believe they moved ever so slightly.
Footsteps echoed down the hall, along with the sharp taps of a cane against the marble floor. Through the large doorway to the room the subject of the paintings walked in, carrying a new canvas that had now been placed in an exquisite wooden frame. He made his way across the floor to the empty space on the wall and hung the painting, making sure it was perfectly level. When he’d finished, he took a few steps back, draping his arm around the statue that sat across from it.
“Honestly, Mr. Jenkins, this is one of the best pieces in the collection. I'm humbled to have such a magnificent painting in my home. Thank you.”
The statue couldn’t respond.